Pao Houa Her: Paj qaum ntuj/Flowers of the Sky

July 28, 2022 – January 22, 2023
Walker Art Center

725 Vineland Pl.
Minneapolis, MN

For her solo exhibition at the Walker, Her will debut a new body of work made during the past two years in Northern California. The artist was inspired by a newspaper article on the “Green Rush,” a term used to describe the recent migration of farmers to California that recalls the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. In the remote Mount Shasta area, Hmong farmers have used their ancestral knowledge of highland agriculture to cultivate the mountain’s volcanic terrain. Her’s photographs focus on the much-contested landscape that has become the site of considerable subsistence agriculture and cannabis cultivation following the state’s legalization of marijuana. The exhibition title Paj qaum ntuj (pronounced “paah kohm duu”) translates to “Flowers of the Sky,” a Hmong phrase alluding to growing marijuana. The poetic and vivid quality of this saying demonstrates the artist’s interest in making visible how Hmong language and land often intertwine.

Conceived as a multipart installation, the exhibition includes a series of new large-scale light boxes featuring images of Mount Shasta’s stark landscape. The display of these works mimics strategies of advertising and communicates the luminous allure of a promised land. While people are not visible in any of these photographs, their tools of labor suggest their implicit presence. The exhibition also features a selection of satellite photographs showing views of this area’s farmland. Her’s use of these images prompts critical questions about ways that governments manage and control populations.